Connectivity: the new frontier of student experience

Andy Butcher, UK Education Sales Specialist at Axians, investigates how an increasingly connected world affects HE institutions, and how to adapt

Are universities equipped for a connected world?

This year’s set of A-Level results have revealed a drop in university applications – young people are increasingly turning to vocational means to get the qualifications they need, or even going straight into full-time work. Increased tuition fees mean that those who do opt to go down the route of university are now, more than ever, ‘consumers’ with very real purchasing power. As a result, universities need to offer students more bang for their buck.

Underpinning all of this is a growing need to deliver value to both students and researchers. This of course comes in the form of world-class teaching and research, top-notch facilities and a varied pastoral programme. But the increasingly connected nature of the way we live our lives has added another dimension. The Internet and the widespread use of mobile devices mean that students expect the same high service levels on campus as they would anywhere else – and they will rate a university accordingly.

As the breadth of connected devices on campus expands, universities need a support to manage the connectivity of those devices in a serviceable and secure way. It has been predicted that 20 billion connected devices will be in circulation worldwide by 2020, but IT infrastructure at higher education institutions  isn’t currently equipped to meet this demand. 

Digitalization has driven a shift in behaviour, with expectations rising and changing more frequently. The wide variety of methods of obtaining digital access and information enables students to find out what they want to know more quickly and more independently than ever before. In this age of digital transformation, efficiency and self-services are key to loyalty and this means making it easy for students to access online facilities that help them in their studies and research. They expect the university to facilitate, and if the experience is poor then this can quickly be manifested into negative publicity on social media – another hallmark of our connected age!

Why do universities need to think about cyber crime?

Cyber-attacks are no longer simply targeted at unwitting consumers and traditional enterprises. Critical infrastructure (such as power grids, nuclear facilities etc) and organisations like the NHS and universities are at the forefront of a new cybercrime battleground.

Jisc, a membership organisation providing digital solutions for UK education and research, helps to safeguard universities against cyber-attack. But they too recognise that although universities’ cybersecurity budgets are increasing rapidly, investment alone is not enough to tackle the problem. Jisc argues that education is the key to increasing cyber awareness, not just in university staff, but also with students.

For the modern university, protecting the brand means defending confidential information – student and staff personal data, as well as research IP – all of which have a market value. The reality is that every organisation’s online security can be vulnerable and may be breached at some point. It is therefore vital to put in place the right technology, processes and training to mitigate the impact as soon as the threat appears.

What is GDPR and how does it affect universities?

With the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) set to come into effect in less than a year’s time, any organisation that handles personal data must be well on track towards compliance.

As the regulation creeps into focus for businesses and universities alike, we’re noticing an upsurge in people starting to comprehend this new reality. 

In preparing to be compliant, the first step should be to ascertain what personal data a company holds that will be affected by GDPR. A key element of the regulation is to enable an opt-in, rather than an opt-out, requirement for data sharing. What’s more, GDPR will affect every department of an organisation, from HR, to marketing and IT; so everyone needs to be on the same page.

Increasingly, the awarding of research grants requires universities to be part of Cyber Essentials, a “government-backed, industry supported scheme to help organisations protect themselves against common cyber-attacks.” Compliance with GDPR and the PCI Security Standards Council is often also required for entry into research groups, so cyber security is certainly on the agenda.

Connectivity must be front of mind for the modern university. In higher education tradition is valued highly, but universities must modernise to keep up with, and retain, their students and status.

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